The Feeling that I Belong in My Youth Group

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We had a youth group that was comprised of mostly one high school, with a few students from other schools.  No matter how hard we tried to help those from other schools feel welcome, I don’t think they ever really did feel as though they were part of the group.  Part of that is because they didn’t know the other students very well.  Part of it was because they didn’t share the same school experience.

All I know is that of all the challenges I experienced as a youth leader, realizing that some youth did not feel as if they were a part of the group frustrated me the most.

My children go to a youth group where there are probably ten schools represented.  There is no super majority from any school. There are Christian schools, charter schools and public schools represented.  While this diversity brings its own challenges, it seems to me that it’s much easier to feel accepted and involved in this diverse youth group.

I wonder if other youth leaders have experienced this. Is your youth group becoming more diverse in the schools represented?  Is this helpful?

And for those who have youth groups comprised of mostly one or two schools, have you experienced the challenge of including students from other schools?

High school and middle school years are difficult enough without also feeling unconnected to a youth group.  Help me out here.  Any ideas or strategic actions that can break down these school barriers?

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Our Teen Club consists of 3 kids from a local Christian school, and three kids who go to other schools, but who all know each other from outside of teen club/church. Another layer of complexity in our case is the fact that 5 are female and only one is male. 

The three and three definitely cluster together into little comfort-zone groups, and as leaders, I don't think we ever expect the 6 kids to become fully integrated. However, we are always trying to point out their common experiences to them. If one of the groups is dominating conversation, relating stories of their experiences at school that week, we try to ask the other group if they ever experience similar situations. There are some things that all grade 8 kids have in common: science fair, too much homework, bullying, field trips etc.  By our questions (asking questions is often the number one thing we leaders spend time doing during a teen club meeting!) we try to keep the conversation ping-ponging back and forth between the two groups. I don't know if acknowledging the divide and NOT trying to dissolve it constantly is a good thing, or if it's the best way to keep the kids comfortable within the group. Open to your thoughts!

It's hard when the group is so small to purposefully split the kids up into different groups when we plan activities or team sports, because it's so obvious to them what we're doing! Thankfully, they have been very graceful about that; even though we know THEY know what's going on, they don't complain or point it out. 

I'm looking forward to seeing what others respond to this post!

Thanks for the reply Ashley. I think it's a great idea to find the common experiences and point them out.  I suspect you also find, as we did, that the more the students hang out together, the less the different schools matter.

Paul,

I'm curious if the first youth group you spoke of was largely comprised of Christian school youth and the public school youth were having a hard time fitting in?

We struggle with that and have worked hard to consciously not solely base events on the dominate school's schedule (which in our case is a Christian school).  It gets difficult though as school breaks are all over the map.  In our case I think we have two strikes against us in that our Christian school kids not only share their life together 5 days a week and so naturally bond together, but they are also quite sheltered and have a hard time relating to kids that come from public schools--(the exception being public school students that are very active in the church and quite outgoing.)

We have worked hard to include talk of school events going on at all the schools represented even though the local Christian school kids are the largest group represented.  We have also worked hard not to talk as if the Christian school schedule is the only one we need to work around or care about.  This has taken some time and effort, but I think we are reaching a better place of being more "school neutral" and more inclusive of all students.

Kirk

Hi Kirk.

Yes, the first youth group was largely comprised of Christian school youth. Your challenges with that, and school schedules were the same challenges we struggled with. Your school neutral position is a good one. That's a really good reminder for those of us who are dealing with the same situation.

We also made an intentional effort to let the students that went to the public school talk about their school stuff. When one of our students was in a school play at the public school, we talked the entire youth group into attending the play to show our support and cheer her on. That really pulled our group together.

Thanks Kirk.